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AriCooks, cake, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes, Spring, Summer

Loquat (shesek) tree hangs over our balcony

It’s May in Jerusalem and nothing could be more delightful. The days are warm, the evenings are breezy, and our loquat tree is bursting with fruit. The old ladies that wander the shuk with their backyard-offerings are selling a variety of basil that lasts for weeks in a glass of water set out on our table (it even starts to root), and smells amazing. My fruit and vegetable guy had organic lettuce this week, grown by his teenage neighbor, and bright, sweet cherries, also grown without pesticides. I know that the heavy, sticky heat is imminent and I am enjoying every second of this season.


I’ve been making a pitcher of my favorite iced tea every few days, which is basically just a fruity tea mix with berries, apples and hibiscus, sometimes mixed with a little white or mild green tea, steeped in a litre of just-boiled water for a few minutes, cooled, chilled and served over ice. Sometimes I mix it with bought or homemade lemonade and sprigs of fresh mint and verbena.


And after our five week stay in Boston this winter reminded ever more how lucky I am to have access to cheap lemons (80 cents a piece at the markets in Boston!!) I have been also been using them in everything from salad dressing, to dips, to this lovely tea cake adapted from The New York Times Cookbook:

Simple Lemon Cake

1.5 cups flour – I used 50-50 white and whole wheat (you could also use part spelt)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 lb butter (~125 grams)

2 large eggs, at room temp

3/4 cup sugar

6 Tbs milk

2-3 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

2-3 Tbs lemon zest

tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/180C, grease and flour a loaf pan (English cake pan)

Add a little of the lemon juice to the milk to curdle it.

Sift flours, baking soda, powder and salt together in a bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, and then beat in lemon zest and vanilla.

Alternately beat in flour mixture and liquids. Beginning with flour, then adding a bit of the milk and lemon juice etc, ending with flour. Do not overmix.

Spread batter into loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes on the center oven rack.

Happy Spring, listen to this if you haven’t yet (or even if you have).

A Sunny Saturday

AriCooks, breakfast, Jerusalem, quick breads and tea cakes

After a week of rain and cold, were were lucky to have a truly gorgeous Saturday here in Jerusalem. Families were out in the Emek (Valley of the Cross), enjoying the almond blossoms, cyclamen and the bright red anemones that look incredibly vibrant against the greenest grass we will see this year. Auralee, Jeff and I wandered the valley for hours, until the sun began to set, enjoying the colors and the glimpse of spring-weather.

After wearing ourselves out, we went home to enjoy apricot sage scones, roasted tomato salad with white beans, butternut squash stew, and an apple crisp. Not bad for a short weekend.

Apricot Sage Scones, adapted from Martha Stewart Living, 2005 

I’ve had this recipe in my binder of clippings ever since I first made it in 2005. When my friend Caitlin, a personal chef here in Jerusalem, asked if I had ever made savory-sweet scones, I immediately began singing the praises of these, which reminded me that it had been too long since we’d had them ourselves. You can put the leftover sage leaves on a sheet pan, covered with a paper towel, and allow them to dry for a week or so at room temp. Then crumble them up and keep them on hand with the rest of your dried herbs and spices. 

2 cups flour (I used whole wheat)

1//4 cup sugar

1 Tbs baking power

3/4 tsp salt

5 Tbs cold butter, cut into cubes

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

2 Tbs + 1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped

1 cup cold cream or milk (I used soy milk)

standing sugar and milk/cream for brushing and sprinkling

Put the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until mixed. Add the sage and apricots and pulse again. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of peas. Then add the cream slowly (you may not need it all). The batter should be tacky, not so wet that you can’t handle it. If your scone batter gets too wet, you can add a little extra flour. Turn the batter onto a lightly floured surface and quickly shape into a flat-ish circle (handling the dough as little as possible), about 8 inches around. Cut it into triangles (first in half, then quarters and so forth) and place the scone on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Brush each scone with a bit of milk/cream/soy milk and sprinkle with standing sugar.

Bake at 350°F/175°C until done ~ 18 to 20 minutes. These will make your house smell divine and are best eaten slightly warm.


AriCooks, quick breads and tea cakes

Halani, this post dedicated to you and to Dom. I wish you both much happiness and love. Have an amazing wedding next weekend, wish I could be there !!

If you blink, you might miss lime season here in Israel.

Although only having limes for a brief time is a little sad, it is pushing me to make the most of them while they’re here. Yesterday evening, when a few overripe bananas were calling my name, I was suddenly reminded of my friend Halani’s amazing tropical banana bread recipe. Being a true Hawaiian, even something as classic and straightforward as banana bread takes on an Island flare, and although I do not have her exact recipe, I think she would agree that this is a just version.

"mama, I really looove banana bread"

Coconut Lime Banana Bread

Of course, if you don’t have limes you can use lemons, and if you don’t like coconut feel free to leave it out altogether (then you will basically have a traditional banana bread, which isn’t a classic for nothing).

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

1 1/3 cups pastry flour

3/4-1 cup whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 tsp cardamom

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

Combine the dry ingredients (except coconut) in one bowl and the wet in another. Fold dry ingredients into the wet, then fold in coconut, being careful not to overmix– your batter will be pretty thick. Pour into the baking pan and bake 30 minutes at 375°F, then turn the oven down to 325°F and bake for 15-30 minutes more.

Cool completely before removing from pan and slicing.

Honey Cake

cake, quick breads and tea cakes

I know it’s not Rosh Hashannah (Jewish New Year), but I could not resist the urge to make honey cake when I received my delivery of local treats this week, which included; fresh eggs, spreadable goat cheese, cold-pressed olive oil, and raw honey. This honey obviously stands perfectly well on its own, spread onto toast or stirred into hot tea, but considering that little tea breads and cakes are a large part of our diet, I immediately combed through my cookbooks in search of a promising-looking recipe.

These cakes are moist, not too dense, and richly flavored with the help of brewed coffee and amaretto liqueur. I like to make them in mini-pans and give one to someone we love. Honey cake is a treat best shared.

Honey  Cake,  adapted from Gourmet Today

Makes 3 mini cakes or one 9 x 5 inch cake.

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tap salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp freshly grated ginger (best to keep a knob of ginger in the freezer for easy grating)

1/2 cup honey (use the best quality that you can find)

1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)

1/3 cup goat/cow yogurt

1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee (you could also use chai tea)

2 large eggs

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 Tbs amaretto liqueur (the original recipe suggests using whiskey or bourbon, and you can also use brandy– whatever amber-colored alcohol you have on hand should be fine)

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F /175°C. Oil a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, or 3 mini loaf pans, with oil and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices– including fresh ginger,

In another bowl add the oil, yogurt, coffee, and honey. Mix well.

In a large bowl, either with an electric hand mixer or a whisk, beat the eggs and brown sugar together for a few minutes.

Add the honey mixture and the amaretto to the egg mixture and mix well, then add the flour until just combined.

Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake for ~30 minutes (it may take less time if you are using mini pans, so keep an eye on them).

Loquat Love and a simple Shabbat Cake

AriCooks, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes, Spring

Nothing in life is perfect or simple, except for cake. Cake is a food group to me (I think Jeff and Auralee feel the same) and we find all kinds of ways to sneak it in as sustenance — in the form of breakfast and snacks — in addition to enjoying it in the traditional dessert-manner. This Shabbat, with my new oven fully-operational, there was no doubt that cake of some kind (along with homemade challah) would be on the menu.

One of the nice things about shopping at the shuk is that you cannot avoid knowing what is currently in season. Out-of-season produce goes up in price (or disappears entirely) and produce that is in season is displayed prominently in large quantities. Right now loquats שסק are appearing at the market, though a tad early and not yet as sweet as they will be in a few weeks. My love for these little fruits is so great and has been so deprived for the last eleven years that I happily scooped up a box with the intention of baking them into an upside down coconut cake.

What I forgot is that eating loquats as they are is a juicy, sweet, wonderfully kinesthetic experience that would be mostly lost were they baked into a dessert of any kind. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend serving them alongside this simple little cake, as the flavors are very complementary and the sweetness of the cake helps cut some of the tang of the early fruits.

Coconut Yoghurt Cake

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup milk/rice milk/soy milk

1/2 cup goat (or regular) plain yoghurt

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Grease and flour a small square baking pan (9 inch) and preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC).

Sift together the flours, baking soda and powder and the salt. In a separate bowl whisk the oil, sugar, milk, yoghurt and vanilla. Fold dry ingredients into wet and then mix in the coconut (careful not to overmix). Pour into baking pan and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack before turning out of the pan.

An unassuming Applesauce Cake (for a not-so-unassuming woman)

breakfast, Dairy Free, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes

Last night I had a much-needed girls’ night with my friend Halani — it was way overdue. We threw together an impromptu array of finger foods and desserts and had a picnic on the floor of her adorable apartment.

Halani and I met back in 2004 when we were both still working in flowers. The shop where we first worked together was a charming, bright little space on Beacon Hill, not much bigger than my living room. I was a refugee from a bucket-shop (a floral-industry term for the older, townie-run shops around Boston) in Central Square. An awful place where slinging empty flower buckets (and expletives) at one another was not an uncommon occurrence, and few employees had a full set of teeth. When I arrived for my interview at Charles Street Flowers on a sunny day in March, I felt like I was walking into an oasis. Pure white orchids and fluffy hydrangea adorned the floor to ceiling window display and there was not a carnation in sight. Best of all, the owner, Peter, spoke comprehensible English and used words with several syllables. He seemed like he might actually be sane. I exhaled. From the work-area I heard a “HALLOO” directed at me, and looked up to see a vision of beauty and elegance sweeping up the morning’s prep debris.

Halani! Beautiful flower-shop girl extraordinaire!

Since 2004 Halani and I have had many adventures, together and separately, both in and out of the flower world. As fierce and loyal as she is lovely and talented, Halani is a treasure of a woman that I am blessed to know. I wish her the very best in her upcoming year of exciting changes. Everyone should be as lucky as I am to have a friend like her.

Flower shop friends, Joe, Eri, Larry, Halani and me

Applesauce Walnut Cake, adapted from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl, 2009

I realize that this little cake is not much to look at. I have certainly photographed many, far more impressive-looking desserts for this blog. I promise however that it is moist, sweet and delicious, especially when shared with a friend over tea, wine or pink champagne…

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used a whole wheat pastry – all purpose mix)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (or margarine), softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar (I used only 1/2 cup)

2 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 minutes

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used a peach-apple sauce – delicious!)

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

GARNISH: confectioners’ sugar (didn’t use)

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: a 9-inch square baking pan (I used a round pan)

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat over to 350°F. Butter baking pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Beat together butter/margarine and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and applesauce, then scrape down sides of bowl (mixture will look curdled). At low speed, add flour mixture and mix, scraping down sides of bowl, just until flour is incorporated. Stir in pecans.

Spread batter evenly in baking pan. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 30 minutes.

Run a thin knife around sides of pan. Turn cake out of pan, if desired, and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

COOK’S NOTE: The cake can be made up to 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.


Cooking and baking with Beer, Dairy Free, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes, Winter

A move this big is crazy. Even crazier when you are going to a new city without jobs and with a small child who needs to eat three times a day. In addition to the normal anxiety that goes along with turning our lives upside down, it’s December in Boston, which means short days, gray skies, freezing temperatures and bleak…bleakness. What I am trying to say is that alcohol may be involved for the duration. More specifically, Guinness — my most favorite beer! I love Guinness not only because of it’s frothy, rich, creamy, delicious flavor, but also because it lends itself to cooking and baking so nicely. Cheers.

In this case, some tunnelling is okay (developing of gluten which causes those holes) you need some gluten to give this heavy cake structure and prevent it form collapsing in the center

Gingerbread Cake [so good it’s almost sinful], from Cook’s illustrated, Jan/Feb 2011

This is some seriously moist, sticky (yes,sticky!), molasses-y, dark, rich, gingerbread. If you double the recipe (and I highly recommend that you do), you will use an entire 12-oz bottle of guinness stout.

3/4 cup stout

1/2 tsp baking soda

2/3 cup mild molasses (I could only find blackstrap, but I like it)

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups  all purpose flour (I used a mix of all purpose and whole wheat pastry)

2 Tbs ground ginger

1/2 tsp table salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper

2 large eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 Tbs finely grated fresh ginger

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan.

Bring stout toa boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam vigorously).

When foaming subsides, stir in molasses, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until dissolved; set mixture aside. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper together in a bowl; set aside.

Transfer stout mixture to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the eggs, oil, and grated ginger until combined. Whisk wet mixture into the flour mixture in thirds, stirring vigorously until completely smooth after each addition.

Transfer the batter to prepared pan and gently tap pan against counter 3 or times to dislodge any large air bubbles. Bake until top of cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean ~ 40 minutes.

Cool cake in pan on a wire rack, about 1 1/2 hours. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

Hunger pains and a Cranberry Orange Nut Bread

Autumn, breakfast, Dairy Free, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes, Vegan

The summer Jeff and I got married my parents took the whole family to Southern Spain. It was a really wonderful trip, exploring our Spanish roots, drinking wine, wandering through white villages, and seeing the Al Hambra. The only problem was the food. While I am sure that for some people Andalucia is a gastronomic paradise, if you are a non-pork eater, a vegetarian, lactose intolerant or simply prefer a few vegetables with your proteins, I wouldn’t recommend traveling there for the food alone. Jeff and I nibbled crackers, dark chocolate and sipped wine (it was cheaper than water) for most of the trip, and cooked for ourselves as much as possible. It was an incredible time, but after three weeks of picking ham out of our gazpacho, we were more than ready to return to Boston — food-wise anyway. A person can only eat so many tortillas espanolas before the idea of another egg becomes a little vulgar.

This week we had to travel very briefly to New Orleans (like, 24 hours) where my mother was being honored at the General Assembly for her work in Jewish Education. While the occasion itself was very exciting, and we were happy to be there to support her, I left hungry. I realize that many people love crawfish (I have no idea what it is, actually), shrimp, grits, jambalaya, mixed drinks, po boys, and sausages and I respect their preferences. For us, returning home from a whirlwind trip was made even sweeter by the easy and immediate access to our favorite Thai Food place and the remaining cranberry crostata waiting in our fridge.

Lissy, eating crostata and wearing mouse ears, last Friday

This latest candidate for Thanksgiving weekend’s food festivities is a little vegan tea cake that could be served alongside the Thanksgiving meal itself, as a breakfast treat, or afternoon snack. You could also make it into mini breads and deliver them as Thanksgiving gifts!

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread, from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1/2 cup soy milk (I used almond milk)

1/4 fresh orange juice

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups flour (I used 1 cup all purpose and 1 cup whole wheat pastry)

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1 Tbs grated orange zest

1 cup chopped fresh craberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

the hardest part of this recipe is chopping up these guys -- they roll EVERYWHERE

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the soy milk, orange juice, canola oil, sugar and vanilla.

Sift in the flour, baking soda and powder, salt and allspice. Mix until just smooth. The batter will be thicker than a normal cake batter.

so thick, you can stand a spatula in it

Fold in the orange zest, cranberries, and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake for about 1 hour. Let the bread cool for about 15 minutes before removing it from the pan – inverting onto a cooling rack. Flip it right side up to cool further.

Old-Fashioned Molasses Blueberry Cake

breakfast, Dairy Free, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes

Because my family moved around quite a bit when I was growing up, and also (I like to think) since I tend to befriend nomadic, wild children like myself, many of  my friends are scattered across the globe. Some are no farther than a few hours away (New York, New Hampshire) while others are farther (California, Israel, Japan, Ireland). At any rate, I have this dream that someday I will throw a party where all of them will actually be able to attend and meet one another (I think they’d all get along rather famously). I will serve sophisticated international cuisine and expensive wine and we will stay up all night singing and dancing.

In the mean time, the distance, the always-too-quick visits, and the dwindling number of people who knew me pre-marriage living nearby, really gets me down sometimes. There is no special remedy for this particular brand of heartache so I just apply the usual: long walks, comfort cooking and baking, old country music and blues ballads, and a little red wine.

Old Fashioned Molasses Blueberry Cake, from 101 Cookbooks, August 2009.

This cake is sweet enough for dessert, but also wholesome enough for breakfast or tea, especially if you use a 50/50 blend of whole wheat pastry and all-purpose flours.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (or a 50/50 blend of AP and Whole Wheat Pastry)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

5 tablespoons milk, divided (I used soy milk)

1/2 cup unsulphered molasses

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, barely melted (you can use margarine– I forgot to add this entirely and my cake still came out tender and yummy)

1 1/2 cups  blueberries, frozen (I think fresh berries would work, but you might want to try using a half cup less)

1 teaspoon flour

Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar (optional), or a big dollop of sweetened freshly whipped cream

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan (or equivalent).

In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl whisk together the cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons of the milk. In another bowl whisk the molasses with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Whisk the cider vinegar mixture into the molasses mixture, then whisk in the eggs.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until just barely combined. Stir in the butter. Toss the blueberries with 1 teaspoon of flour and fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about thirty minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes and then serve sprinkled with powdered sugar, or with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.

Serves 8 – 10.

Little Rosh HaShannah Cakes

quick breads and tea cakes

I am just crazy for tea cakes. I love that when you call something a “tea cake” or “quick bread”, it immediately becomes permissible to eat it for breakfast or snack as well as dessert. These little cakes, can be baked in individual mini-pans, as I did (so that they could become Rosh Hashannah gifts for friends and family) or in a bundt or tube pan. They are very sweet and moist thanks to a generous amount of chopped apples, and keep just fine, wrapped in plastic. As many cakes do, these taste even better a day or two after baking.

Apple Raisin Cakes, from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl

makes 4 mini cakes, or one large bundt

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups vegtable oil

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon dark rum

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 Cortland or Empire apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used on granny smith, one empire, and one pink lady apple)

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan, or 4 mini loaf pans, knocking out excess flour.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together oil, eggs, sugars, spices, rum, and vanilla in a large bowl. Fold in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in apples and raisins and spoon batter into pan.

Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool completely.

Cake can be kept at room temp, tightly wrapped, for up to 5 days.